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Tyler Inamoto drives Badgers men's hockey team's shot-blocking prowess early in season
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Tyler Inamoto drives Badgers men's hockey team's shot-blocking prowess early in season

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Tyler Inamoto

Defenseman Tyler Inamoto leads the Badgers with 18 blocked shots through four games.

It took Tyler Inamoto nearly 15 minutes of game play to really get into the season.

That's how long it took for the University of Wisconsin senior defenseman to block his first shot against Notre Dame on Nov. 13.

A few days later, he was able to laugh about it. It wasn't very funny in the moment.

As the Badgers defenseman dipped down to his right knee to get more of himself between the shot off the stick of Notre Dame's Zach Plucinski and the net, the puck slammed into his left forearm.

"Not much protection there," Inamoto said. "So that one stung."

He got in the way of six others over the two-game series that opened the season, giving reason for his teammates to make noise on the bench. He blocked 11 more in two losses to Michigan last week.

He'll probably have more work to do Monday and Tuesday when the Badgers host No. 10 Penn State at LaBahn Arena.

The Nittany Lions have led the nation in average shots on goal for the past six seasons. In four games against Penn State last season, Inamoto blocked 19 shot attempts, nearly a quarter of his team-leading total for the campaign.

Through four games this season, Inamoto has picked up the pace in preventing shots from getting through to the goal. So have his teammates.

Inamoto's early average of 4.5 blocks per game might be unsustainable over the length of the campaign. It's nearly double his average of 2.26 last season.

But if the team as a whole can keep up its statistical improvement in getting in the way of shots, it stands to help the defensive effort in the long run.

UW is averaging 18.5 blocks compared to 14.3 last season. Defensemen have done most of the work, as is their nature, but Badgers coach Tony Granato said forwards are more confident getting in shooting lanes.

"Making that commitment to our team game, to our goaltender to let him know we're willing to take some big blocks for him," he said, "that's been a real positive."

Badgers goalie Robbie Beydoun provided the visual of teammates icing their feet and ankles after games because of the amount of shot blocks.

"It's been super inspiring," Beydoun said. "It means a lot to me as a goalie knowing that I'm going to have that help where if I'm not seeing a puck or if they're just taking away a lane, they're going to block shots. I think any successful team has to block a lot of shots, at any level of hockey."

In a season where reinforcement has to come from within a team instead of from an engaged crowd, a block to prevent a good scoring chance has been as energizing as a hit or a goal for the Badgers' bench a few times.

A sliding block by forward Jack Gorniak in the Nov. 13 opener had UW players making noise with their voices and sticks.

"I think that'll do dividends for us," Inamoto said. "It's definitely a hard thing to do with no fans. The atmosphere's very calm and mellow and not a lot of energy. So it definitely comes from the bench."

Inamoto's game is based on stability in the defensive zone and simple puck movements. Granato said that players that are effective early in the season can trace improvements to making offseason commitments to work.

He said Inamoto falls into that category, even though the defenseman was among those who wasn't able to get on the ice regularly for a long stretch because of COVID-19 quarantines.

A makeshift weight room in the basement of his family's suburban Chicago home helped with strength training before he returned to Madison. He used the driveway to work on stickhandling and shooting, although his parents' garage door didn't suffer.

"They don't let me shoot by the garage," Inamoto said. "So I've got to shoot into the field by our house."

He said his mobility and passing have improved from what he was able to do over the offseason.

Inamoto also played his role as an alternate captain alongside Ty Pelton-Byce and captain Ty Emberson. During quarantine periods, they each took a group of players to keep in touch with.

"Getting to know the new guys and keeping up with the old guys," Inamoto said. "When we got here, it just seemed natural. Everybody fit in. It's going well so far."

Blocking shots isn't part of a typical offseason regimen. It all comes back with the first bruise of the season, as Inamoto remembered.

"He always finds a way to get in the way," Granato said.

What's different in Big Ten hockey this season? A look at standings, tiebreakers, travel, crowd noise


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